Category Archives: Ephemera

Great American Duels #1

Challenger:  Aaron Burr-  Vice President of the United States

Challenged:  Alexander Hamilton-  Former Secretary of the Treasury

The Offense:   Burr had been dropped from Thomas Jefferson’s ticket in 1804 and was seeking the Governorship in New York.  Alexander Hamilton’s opinion of Burr (“a most dangerous man not to be trusted with the reins of government”)  had been made public is several private letters that were published in Albany newspapers.  The concerted efforts of Hamilton and his allies cost Burr the election.   Burr protested, “political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum.”  Hamilton accepted Burr’s challenge. 

A sketch of America’s most famous duel

Background:  The Burr-Hamilton feud can be traced to 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in a New York Senate race.  In 1800, Hamilton used his influence in the House of Representatives to give the contested Presidential election to Thomas Jefferson over Burr.  Hamilton considered Burr an interloper whose ambition made him unfit for honorable public service.  Burr’s political career was clearly impeded by the efforts of Hamilton.  It seemed a duel was inevitable, yet historians debate the motivations of Hamilton and Burr.  Was Burr simply a murderer?  Did Hamilton have  a death wish?

The Burr-Hamilton pistols

 The Field of Honor:  July 11, 1804–  The duelists were rowed across the Hudson river to the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey.  Most historians now agree that Hamilton did not plan on firing at Burr.  Burr’s later statements indicate he had every intention of killing Hamilton.  The Seconds were instructed to turn away from the dueling ground, but the participants agree that Hamilton’s shot crashed into the tree branches above Burr’s head.  Burr took aim and struck Hamilton in the torso slashing his internal organs and lodging in his vertebrae.  Burr briefly showed concern, but his entourage rushed him back to Manhattan.  Hamilton died a day later.  Burr was never convicted of murder, though dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey. 

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The Speaker has Arrived

Henry Clay was first elected Speaker of the House… on November 4, 1811.  America was on the verge of war with Britain and the new Speaker(and freshman House member) immediately set the agenda.  No previous Speaker had used the gavel in such a way.  Henry Clay was not only pushing his country into war, he was revolutionizing policy making in the People’s House:

Henry Clay of Kentucky

“What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked?  In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?—commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor!  Let those who contend for this humiliating doctrine, read its refutation in the history of the very man against whose insatiable thirst of dominion we are warned.  Let us come home to our own history. It was not by submission that our fathers achieved our independence.”

Clay’s silky smooth delivery in a deep baritone that commanded attention… made  floor debates his stage.  But, the Speaker’s conference room was where Clay was able to hammer out deals to guide difficult policies through the House.  The War of 1812 was his first great accomplishment.  Ever the gambler, Clay felt the struggle was worth the risk:

“But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration.” –Henry Clay, 1811

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It Takes Guts

A time for action…running the gauntlet

David Glasgow Farragut had guts…and it showed in his decision to push past the forts protecting New Orleans.  For seven full days, the Union navy had shelled Forts Jackson and St. Philip.  Some ships were shaken to pieces by the repeated concussions, well over 15,000 shells were fired.  Farragut had enough by April 24, 1862, ordering his ships to steam past the forts at 2a.m.  Aggressive action was lacking in the Union war effort through most of 1862.  Farragut’s decision was precisely the type Lincoln had been waiting for.

Confederate defenses approaching New Orleans

Farragut’s fleet took damage… but the Confederates had no answer for the boldness of the move.  Once past the forts, Farragut’s ships easily defeated a makeshift fleet sent to meet them at the mouth of the harbor.  A desperate attempt to set Farragut’s flagship on fire was also stymied and the city was his for the taking.  At noon on April 25, 1862, Farragut climbed onto the levee of New Orleans.  Four days later, 10,000 Union troops occupied the city.

Forget heroics, it just takes guts

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The Shepherd Returns

Abraham Lincoln had to sneak through… the city of Baltimore on the road to his inauguration.  His election had stirred a hornet’s nest in that town as violence and secession were proving to be inseparable.  Plots were discovered to kill Lincoln as he passed through the city- so much for the rule of law, republican elections, and the will of the people.  Lincoln would effectively deconstruct the illogical foundation of secession in his inaugural address, the violent streets of Baltimore served as living proof of its absurdity.

800px-Baltimore_Riot_1861

A violent, pro-secession mob shed first blood… in the American Civil War.  Massachusetts militiamen were assaulted on the streets of Baltimore while traveling to Washington DC.  Lincoln used the provocation to suspend habeas corpus in Maryland. The city was placed under martial law and the mayor, members of the town council, and eventually one third of the state legislature were arrested.  All involved, at least in part, played a role in inciting the violence.  Lincoln had to enforce ALL the laws, in ALL states- Maryland wanted special treatment, in a sense to be ABOVE the Union.

 

  In April of 1864 Lincoln returned… to Baltimore with a message.  The city was still hostile, but pacified under Lincoln’s direction.  He reminded the people there that liberty was not a word they owned- it had a bigger, more profound meaning.  He told them, “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty…”     Self interest and narrow-minded politics influenced the violence in Baltimore- and the Civil War.  Lincoln was the shepherd guiding the country toward the truth.

 

 

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Eyes of a Soldier

The mythology surrounding Lexington and Concord often obscure the history… of the events of April 19, 1775.  General Thomas Gage tried to put the day’s events into perspective for his anxious superiors across the Atlantic.  Gage knew too well that this was not going to be a suppression of “farmers with pitchforks.”

every hill, fence, and house

“…a continual skirmish for the space of 15 miles, receiving fire from every hill, fence, house, barn, etc.. the whole country was assembled in arms with surprising expedition, and several thousand are now assembled about this town threatening to attack…and we are very busy making preparations to oppose them.”   Gage to Earl of Dartmouth, April 1775

 

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Be the Man

Teddy Roosevelt was America… no one better defined what it meant to be an American.   Roosevelt brought Parisians to their feet on April 23, 1910 clearly stating what it took to be a republican (not a member of the party.)  His words have lived on influencing everyone from Richard Nixon to Nelson Mandela.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Larger than Life

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Study Computers in College!

History majors face a difficult job market… according to a new study.  Only architecture majors fared worse statistically.  History majors face an unemployment rate of over 15% with little hope of improvement.  Because of stringent teaching requirements in most states, a history degree cannot lead to a career in education.  A history degree seems to condemn the recipient to more schooling and more debt.

A history degree ??

The remedy is a simple one… avoid history classes in college.  Studying engineering and computers will provide the most opportunities after college.  It appears as if the national drive to strengthen science and math education has paid off handsomely.  Dot.com executives dominate the Fortune 500 and even entry level technology work pays handsomely when compared to what is available in the liberal arts.  There’s nothing cooler than hip, young tech industry executives soaking up everything gentrified neighborhoods have to offer.  But has all this effort come at a price?  Will our education system continue to turn its back on the liberal arts?

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